Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin
There are some crimes that are so heinous that a person’s reaction to them is almost chemical, not logical. When Blaine McFadden is confronted by the sight of his beloved younger sister after she has been sexually assaulted, he loses control and in short order kills the man responsible. In that act, no matter how justified, Blaine seals his fate and is exiled to a distant, frozen penal colony to pay for having taken another man’s life.
Ice Forged is Gail Z. Martin’s initial entry in a new series called THE ASCENDANT KINGDOMS SAGA. In a world that contains both magic and technology, Blaine becomes a leader. He’s the kind of guy who sees what needs to be done and is willing to just step and do it.
The penal colony of Velant tests and stresses the people who are sent there. The weather is horrible, the living conditions are rough and the guards and administrator of the prison are the dregs of Dondareth’s armed forces. Just living through the difficult voyage to Velant is rough, and the backbreaking hard work and punishing conditions that follow strip away those who are weak. What’s left is a core of survivors who have learned to trust and work together within this rough society of criminals and others who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in Velant.
Donderath is at war with Meroven in a straight-up bar brawl of a fight. The Meroven monarch is described as a greedy, selfish tyrant who will do anything to achieve his ends. The King of Donderath, by comparison, seems like a solid, intelligent ruler, but his back is against the wall as politics and the complexities of losing a war force him to make choices that have horrible side effects. As the fighting escalates between the two nations, and the use of magic reaches unconstrained levels, it’s like watching a nuclear war.
In Velant, the effect of the war’s drain on Donderath becomes evident as support ships stop coming. This severing of the proverbial umbilical cord from Donderath carries many different challenges and opportunities. The loss of supplies and additional troops and penal colonists opens doors to a future that is ripe with change. For Blaine and his close friends, who have built a Spartan but sustainable life, the threat to the stability of their community and unfettering of the governing prison guards force them to make choices about how much they can endure and when to take a stand.
I liked Ice Forged because the characters were gritty but real. Not everyone is a whirlwind of death in combat, and not all of the fighters are deep thinkers, so there is balance and camaraderie that I found very appealing. Martin almost had me thinking I was reading a L.E. Modesitt novel for a minute because of the world building. The penal colony is especially well done and feels real. I enjoyed the fact that people had to actually work to survive and it was not glossed over. Blaine’s supporting cast is interesting and these characters also seem real — not just puppets to tell the story with, but people who have more to them than a sword to kill with. Martin’s style and affection for vampires carries over from her previous work, but it’s not distracting and it fits well in the story. As an initial entry Ice Forged sets things up nicely and definitely left me excited for more.